Art(h)ist\’ry

the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

The Splasher’s Lament

Posted by gninja on July 2, 2007

News about The Splasher has been going around for months now, and s/he seems to be grabbing people’s attention once again (whether deservedly or not, for a recent spate of stink bomb incidents at art shows).

Before (circa December 2005): 83683284_52c18827b6_o.jpg

After (image from a June 27, 2007 NY Times article):

27splasherspan.jpg

A lot of the hubbub surrounding The Splasher stems from a very obvious struggle amongst art critics and the like to distinguish (street) art from vandalism– a topic I addressed in my last post. There was a rather humorous piece in NY Magazine, written in a (dear Lord, I hope) tongue-in-cheek noire tone. In that piece we hear from the Patricks of Faile, regarding the splashing of a Banksy in Brooklyn:

“That piece was a gift,” one of them said. “People loved it. We’d sit out there, and people would stop and take photos of that shit all day long. They loved it. There’s 8 trillion other fucking things you could throw paint at in the city. How many people walk down the street and take pictures of AT&T ads?”

When the Banksy was splashed, the Patricks told me, they immediately covered the entire wall with gray paint—the splash, the Banksy, and the manifesto—and put their own stencil over it. (Few people had really seen a splash before; they weren’t sure what it meant and more than anything just wanted to get rid of it.) The Splasher came back and hit that too. They stenciled over it. He hit them again. They wheatpasted a poster over it. He hit that too. They responded with some themed art, just for the Splasher: a pair of boxers in mid-blow, surrounded by a cluster of red ribbons reading WITH LOVE AND KISSES: NOTHING LASTS FOREVER and a portrait of the Hindu god Ganesh. (“Ganesh is the bearer of all good things,” one of them told me. “The one that breaks down all obstacles.”)

Of course, the Patricks cop to the hypocrisy of their indignation a few lines down. As do many of the articles I’ve read dealing with the Splasher. Street art in NY is a palimpsest over which no one raises an eyebrow when a new stencil goes up over last week’s Swoon. A sense of permanence has no real place in the realm of street art. So for the Faile trio to eulogize the splashing of a work that would– at some point or another– have been overlaid by another work is just garbage.

It’s too obvious, but of course what The Splasher does is just as “legitimate” (if we can even use that term without blushing) as the work of her/his fellow street artists. That the manifestos which go up rail against the bourgeois nature and commerciality of street art is of no consequence. It’s no more than a ceci n’est pas art statement that’s claiming kinship with the work of the Situationists.

What strikes me as most remarkable about the whole situation is its rumor-esque character, more Page-Six (no, I won’t link to The NY Post’s Page Six) than anything else, fueled by NY art kids who obviously have some alliance with the hipster art-scene here. I love the language of vicitimization used to describe the splashings. This one from the NY Mag article linked above:

If you had to choose, from the entire universe of street art, the least likely target of a malicious vandalism campaign, you’d pretty much have to go with Swoon.

If these artists felt so damned proprietary about their work, they’d just put it in a gallery and never have to fret about the fate of their pieces at the hands of splashers, DSNY workers, and the vagaries of tri-state area weather. And, maybe they do. But for these artists to cry foul tells me that (if we can take those manifestos at all seriously) maybe The Splasher is right.

I mentioned in my last post that graf artists are a self-selecting community. Well, in this instance, I don’t see the same self selection as exists in that community. What I see is the brand of elitism that we’ve come to expect in the gallery. If these street artists were at all smart, they’d continue doing what Faile started out doing, and leave their priggish whimpering at home–and certainly out of the pages of New York Magazine.

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